Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ravel and the Javanese Gamelan

Last time we looked at an example exoticism in chamber music, using Debussy’s Syrinx as an example. Exoticism is the evocation of a distant land, by use of borrowed melodies, native instruments, etc. Today, let’s look at how Ravel uses an exotic element in his String Quartet in F Major (1902–1903).

Have you heard of Javanese Gamelan music? This is a term used for an Indonesian orchestra, made up of many instruments, particularly percussion. Many gamelan instruments are specific to certain regions and may have existed there for centuries. Below, you can see an example of a gamelan. Note how expansive it is and how many people it may take to perform:



Often, Western composers would attempt to depict the sounds of Javanese Gamelan in their own compositions—an exotic technique. Ravel did this in the second movement of his String Quartet in F Major. As you listen below, note the pizzicatos and cross-rhythms Ravel incorporates in order to depict what scholars believe to be bells or a gamelan.




Join me next week as we look at exoticism in orchestral music!

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